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Symbol of Enlightenment - The Dorje
by Dan Eden
Imagine you're watching a good movie on your television. The lights are dim and your attention is focused on the actors on the screen. You know that this is the face of Brad Pitt or Meryl Streep. You know they are actors. But you allow yourself to become personally involved with the drama and forget the context in which you are the observer. For the moment, the characters are real and important. You are in the dream.
Buddhists and Hindus, as well as many other sects, believe that we live our lives in a dream. Instead of characters in a movie, we ourselves are the actors in the drama that is our everyday reality.
Many esoteric faiths, especially Buddhism, attempt to wake us from this dream and remind us who we really are. They aim to show us the real context of all that is "out there" in the external world so that we can, once again, regain our true identity as the observer. The awakening from this dream is called "enlightenment."
[Above: A Tibetan Dorje.]
Symbolically a dorje represents the 'thunderbolt of enlightenment,' that abrupt change in human consciousness which is recognised by all the great religions as a pivotal episode in the lives of mystics and saints. Once "enlightened," the observer can detach from the personal importance of money, romance, food and even life itself. Happiness then comes from inside -- not outside -- of the observer who recognizes that he (or she) is part of the Creation.
The Bell and Dorje, or thunderbolt, are inseparable ritual objects in Tibetan Buddhism. They are always used in combination during religious ceremonies.
The Bell held in the left hand, representing the female aspect as wisdom; the Dorje, or male held in the right hand, aspect as method. Together, they represent union of wisdom and method, or the attainment of "enlightenment."
The transformative enlightenment experience is recounted in the various religions. In the Christian tradition, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is a well known example. He is reported to have been "Struck by light," after which he understood his purpose in life.
"About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?' " `Who are you, Lord?' I asked. "`I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. " `What shall I do, Lord?' I asked. " `Get up,' the Lord said, `and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.' My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me" (Acts 22:6-11).
[Above: Coins from the early Christian era.]
Christians also use the phrase "to be born again." This really has origins in the new reality that comes when a person awakens and realizes that he or she is part of God's creation, sharing in divine love, and can leave the old life of materialism. Like Saul, this realization or awakening often comes suddenly and is perceived as a bright light, or lightening bolt.
[Above: Ancient petroglyphs in Asia attest to the importance of this symbol.]
For Buddhists, it is what occurred to the historical Buddha and to all those who experience kensho-satori, the dropping away of 'self'. The Tibetans call this "the Great Death" to distinguish it from that physical one which will be the experience of us all.
[Right: Petroglyphs of the British Isles suggest this same shape.] Dorje is the Tibetan word for vajra. Do-rje means noble stone > Do = stone and rJe = noble or prince. It embodies not only the brilliance of refracted or reflected illumination, but it also symbolizes the impervious and fixed solidity of the point of power around which all else turns -- the axis mundi or hub of the world.
A dorje, then is like the diamond, but that gem is an inadequate symbol for it. However, just as any other substance will be destroyed on impact with a diamond, so the ritual object symbolizes that which is indestructible, enduring, powerful, invincible, and irresistible. Like a diamond, all inferior truth and beliefs will be shattered when confronted with the ultimate truth that we are the "observer," and that everything else is just illusion.
Vajra is a Sanskrit equivalent of the Tibetan word dorje and it carries many meanings: Indra's thunderbolt, the lamas' sceptre, and diamond, but only in the sense mentioned above. It may also be used as a qualifying term for anything used in the tantric context. Thus the person who presides at tantric rituals is called the vajra master or dorje lopon.
Ju-i is the Chinese, and Nyo-i, the Japanese, word used for the thunderbolt.
[Above: Japanese version of Nyo-i, or dorje.]
One becomes curious why this symbol appears throughout antiquity and in such different cultures, both Pagan, Christian and Buddhist. Perhaps it is because all cultures and religions share a common quest: overcoming the often harsh reality that we will all die.
It is believed that one aspect of consciousness separates humans from all other thinking animals and that is the conscious understanding that we are alive. This consciousness is a two sided gift of our evolution, for it also means that we must face our own inevitable mortality. The joy of material ownership, financial and social achievements, of cherished experiences and relationships... all of this is made moot when we project our future beyond a human lifetime.
Many religions attempt to create belief in an afterlife of material bliss, still putting value in the material things of the living and the pleasures of the mortal body. But "enlightenment" offers an escape from this by reminding us that we are not our bodies and we are not to be judged by our possessions or experiences. These, too, belong to the transient "dream," the "soap opera" that we have been watching.
What is our REAL nature? Those who have found this through enlightenment often find it difficult to express in words, since words represent things of this dream world. Some have used terms like "Oneness" to describe the understanding that we are all somehow connected. Others have said that we are pure love.
It is possible that, through meditation, a person can get a glimpse of enlightenment which is fleeting and passes, leaving only a fading memory that quickly becomes coaxed back to sleep in the dream that is our normal reality. St. John of the Cross had this experience and continued to write prolific prose about his sadness at not being able to find it again.
Ah - Who can cure me?
Now make an end and yield yourself completely;
I beg you send me no more Messengers from today
For what I yearn to know they cannot tell me.
O life, how is it you endure
Not living where your life is - how continue
Since close to death you draw
As you receive each arrow
Begotten of the Loved One deep within you?
Extinguish all my sorrows
For no other is able to release them
And let my eyes behold you
You who are their light
For you alone do I desire to keep them
[-The Bride, St. John of the Cross]
To use a modern analogy, our own death is the 800 pound gorilla in the room with which we never make eye contact. Death holds potential terror and invalidates almost everything we hold important in our transient lives. The paradox seems to be that Enlightenment, the death of our ego, is the only path to eternal life.
The giant dorje of Swayambhunath, Nepal that is associated with Karmapa Rangjung Dorje.